Archive for the 'maintenance' Category

Awlgrip Topsides with a Brush

Clark July 25th, 2018

For reasons too convoluted and bizarro to explain, we can’t spray paint in our boatyard. We can only brush, but you’d be surprised at the results a talented painter can achieve with a brush. Fernando, who I will refer to often in this post, is our painting contractor, and the results he gets with a brush are astounding. Many around here say his topside jobs are better than most spray jobs, because with spray there is often a bit of orange peel texture to the finish, but with Fernando’s jobs it’s pure glass:

Fernando is partial to Awlgrip, and he uses just a brush – a $65 ox ear hair brush. He doesn’t roll the paint on with a roller, then tip with a brush (the roll and tip method).

After watching Fernando, I decided I would brush my topsides with Awlgrip.

There are a few preliminaries: My boat was painted with two-part linear polyurethane fifteen years ago, so new two-part linear polyurethane (Awlgrip, Interlux’s Perfection, et al) can be painted over it without priming first. If you’re painting over gelcoat you have to prime first, adding several steps and many hours to the process. And if, God forbid, your boat has been painted with enamel or one-part linear polyurethane, it must all be removed. You can read my post about painting two-part over one-part, but might be riskier with topsides. For my boat I just had to sand it and make sure no wax or gook remained on the surface.

I decided at the outset I was not going for a ten out of ten, in fact I limited myself to two applications of bog in the preparation. That is, in filling various scratches, dings, and gouges, I would fill them with an initial application of epoxy filler, sand them out, and if they needed a second application of filler, so be it, but that was it. You can spend weeks filling and fairing a hull if you’re going for perfection, and I wasn’t going for perfection.

My boat has a hard chine in the bow, which transitions into a design feature farther aft, and this line provided a natural break in the topsides, so I removed hardware and chain plates, and painted above this line at the dock. Below this line I would paint in the yard.

My filling and fairing went quickly, using West System, additives, and a vacuum sander.

The Awlgrip paint, the catalyst, and the thinner.

I mixed up the Awlgrip, which is a 2:1 formulation. I know from experience that a good paint job is two factors: getting the right quantity on the surface, and smoothing this paint to get out bubbles, stipple, etc. Fernando can do this all in one go with his magic brush. I knew I’d be safer rolling and tipping. Many roller covers, even ones recommended by Awlgrip, disintegrate from the solvent. I used one of these roller covers on a 9-inch roller without incident:

Awgrip says to roll about 6 square feet at a time, then tip. I started tipping with one of these pads, which I’ve had good luck with in the past, but switched to a brush after about eight feet. The pad didn’t seem to be getting all the bubbles out:

When my first coat dried it had lots of runs, sags, and curtains, which was disappointing. It’s all about the thinning, and Fernando seems to spend a lot of time futzing with thinner, to get the mixture just right. Awlgrip can be thinned 10-33%, but I was probably close to 10% on my first coat, meaning the paint was too thick, and thus prone to sags, runs, and curtains.

But then came two pleasant surprises: First, Awlgrip sands like a dream. I’d say I sanded the entire topsides and transom of my 40-footer in two hours, using 400 grit on a Festool vacuum sander. 400 grit is quite fine, yet the sags, runs, and curtains melted away with just pass or two of the sander, leaving a perfectly smooth surface for my second coat. Awlgrip takes 14 days for a full cure. I’m guessing it will sand like a rock after 14 days, but the next day after painting it sands with ease, as in, totally painless, which has made me really like Awlgrip.

The second pleasant surprise was that by not thinning enough and painting it on too thick I made a bit of a mess of it, but succeeded in getting a really thick coat of paint on. The coverage was already excellent, so I hoped to get away with just two coats, the minimum per manufacturer’s recommendations.

Indeed this was the case. I didn’t shell out $65 for one of Fernando’s ox ear hair brushes, figuring the difference would be wasted on me, but I did buy the most expensive brush I could find locally, the 3-inch Corona Europa:

And I rolled and tipped my way into a pretty good paint job. It is virtually impossible to capture the good and the bad of white paint on film, but these photos give a sense of the results. I also painted the bottom with new blue antifoul:


There are a couple of runs, but nothing too unsightly, and they’ll shrink up a bit as the paint cures over time. There are none of what I’d describe as brush marks, but in the right light you can see some patterning between the 3-inch downward tipping strokes. You’ll never scrutinize a paint job more than when you’re looking up at it in a boatyard. Once it’s in the water and crusted with salt, I’m sure the impression will just be ooh, new Awlgrip.

Most importantly, I got very good results for about $400 in materials and about 25 hours of labor. A sprayed Awgrip topside job on a 40-footer can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of prep work. One Bay Area yard comes out of the gate quoting $1000 per foot. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, I saved $5000 or so over a sprayed job.

With my two coats, the only time I was out over a spray job was the one sanding between coats, about two hours. And if I hadn’t been happy with that second coat, I would have just been out two hours of sanding and an hour of painting to get on a third. I had plenty of paint left over. With a spray job you’d do all the same prep work, then spray all the coats of paint in one go, over an hour or two. But with a spray job there’d be lots more masking, and probably pulling the masts to get the boat into an indoor painting facility.

Also, this stuff will kill you, and it’s especially dangerous when spraying, when you’re atomizing the paint and sending it airborne. Spraying should be done with a forced air respirator. When brushing it’s a little less toxic, and if you’re working outdoors – and you don’t do this every day – you’re probably okay with just a good organic solvent respirator:

Relief: 12-Ton Boat on a 12-Ton Crane

Clark July 16th, 2018


That moment when your evil plan is finally realized: to infiltrate a boatyard as its General Manager, lay low for 14 months, doing your job diligently, until finally you can spring your trap and yes, get a free haul-out. They never saw it coming.

There was some doubt it was even possible, as my boat is on the fringes of what our crane can lift. Our crane, which is nearly 90 years old, but still passes inspections, can lift 12 tons at our pick spot. Sailboat Data lists my boat as weighing 23,000 pounds, which gives 1000 pounds of leeway, but I assumed this was an unladen weight, that is, unladen with twenty years’ worth of crap I’ve accumulated. I’m out of circumnavigation mode and I’ve purged a lot of junk, but there’s still all the gear and supplies for life aboard. I haven’t the foggiest idea how much the boat actually weighs.

To up my chances I drained the water tanks, drained the fuel tanks, took home five carloads of crap, and dropped all the ground tackle, which is three anchors and about 400 feet of chain.

In the end it was no problem, and the old girl took skyward, but as the moment neared it dawned on me just how expensive and time-consuming it would be if it didn’t work out: I would have had to pay another yard, across town, to haul my boat. The work I need to do will take about a week, only here in my own yard I can do parts of the job after work, and the other yard would be too far away to get to after work, limiting my work to weekends, which would mean three weeks in another yard, so thousands of dollars.

The only slightly unpleasant surprise was the return of some blisters, about 50 of them, but mostly superficial. I did a major blister job and an epoxy bottom 15 years ago, and these blisters aren’t like the 1000 monsters we repaired in New Zealand. Here I’ve ground them out with a die grinder, and I’ll fill them with thickened epoxy, paint some barrier coat on them, and hope for the best:

Use It or Lose It: Keep things working well by using them.

Clark May 3rd, 2018

I’ve compiled a list of all the things on a sailboat that do not benefit from regular use:

1. The sails
2. The beer

Sails wear out from use and sun damage. The beer runs out. Other than that, everything on your boat benefits from regular use, the corollary of which is that everything is damaged by lack of use. In the boatyard this is the tragedy we see every day.

Some examples:

1. Seacocks: Open and close them every few months or they’ll freeze up. Why stop there? Every valve on the whole boat, be it fresh water, sea water, or fuel, will benefit from being worked regularly.

2. The engine: run it hard every few weeks, enough to get it up to operating temperature. Much has been written on this subject, but it’s worse to run it a short time than to not run it at all. If you can’t take the boat out, make sure the dock lines are secure and you’re not going to go motoring away with your dock, then put her in gear and let her strain against the lines…for a good 20 minutes, at least. Running the engine keeps all the innards lubricated and corrosion free, and cooks moisture out of the oil. It also keeps oil seals in good working order. See number 3.

3. Oil seals: this is near and dear to my heart, because I am currently rebuilding my windlass, for the second time in 5 years, because the oil seals are shot. Since I’m a landlubber now, I’ve hardly used the windlass, and it went to pot.

An oil seal:

Here’s how it works: On any machinery with an oil bath, such as a windlass, an engine crank case, a transmission, a mechanical steering linkage, powered cockpit winches, etc. there are oil seals, usually made out of Nitrile rubber, or some other synthetic material. A thin lip seal encircles a rotating shaft, making secure contact, sometimes with the aid of a circular spring.

In normal use this lip seal, with a little of the oil from the oil bath, rubs on the shaft as it rotates, keeping the oil in and outside contaminants out. Since the shaft is metal it corrodes over the years, but the gentle action of the lip seal rubs away the light corrosion as it forms, sending the corrosion into suspension in the oil bath. A self-polishing seal, if you will.

If you don’t use the device, this corrosion will not be polished off or carried away: It will corrode to the point that the seal won’t seat well, and the seal itself might then be damaged by the now rough surface. Then the oil or transmission fluid leaks out. The solution is very simple: Just use the device and rotate the shaft, and thus clean the seal.

Lip seals are amazingly durable if you treat them right: A transmission output seal can last twenty years or more, which isn’t bad for a relatively simple piece of rubber.

On my windlass, the shaft was so badly damaged from corrosion that I (actually my friend Peter, but I learned a lot and can do the other two) had to turn the shaft down on a lathe, then make a bronze sleeve (which is very smooth) to go over it. Now the lip seal mates with the smooth bronze sleeve, instead of the corroded steel shaft underneath:

4. Macerator pumps: It should come as no surprise that a pump left to soak in sea water and raw sewage for a few months might have some issues. Indeed, a macerator pump will freeze after just a few months sitting idle. Run them for a few seconds from time to time and they’ll last for years.

5. Pressure Fresh Water pump: Same as the macerator pump, with the addition of a pressure switch, which is also prone to freezing in place if it isn’t worked.

6. Switches: Even in a sealed switch some sort of corrosion or gunk can form on the contacts, and this is how most switches end their lives. Sometimes it’s from carbon buildup from overuse, but more often they’re fouled from under-use. Turn things on and off from time to time.

Let’s cut to the chase here: Everything should be used and worked. Blocks, winches, sail tracks, power trains, electrical parts, windlasses, rudders, watermakers, generators, autopilots…everything. Their parts get dirty, corroded, or stuck. O-rings, seals, and impellers get compressed and distorted from sitting in one position for months or years, then don’t bounce back. Working things from time to time keeps them moving freely.